Words in Motion "Spoken Sessions" by Chris Baker
Once a month, customers arrive at Huckleberry’s to find tables pushed against the wall and chairs rearranged in neat rows facing a single microphone perched expectantly on its stand. Confused, curious, and rather intrigued, they begin to notice peculiar characters scattered around the park outside the restaurant, mumbling to themselves or clustered in small groups listening intently to each other as they take turns performing some sort of recital. The words “Spoken Sessions” are written decoratively on a small chalkboard outside the restaurant entrance where a bright-eyed young woman stands calling the peculiar characters inside – it’s time to begin!
Spoken Sessions has come a long way since the first “session” was held in a small living room in suburban Pretoria in 2014. Its creators, Kurt Schröder and Shae-leigh Bloem, desired to create a platform where promising poets could flourish and the best of the best could inspire each other with their lyrical artworks. Sessions, as it is known by regulars, has become a home for all spoken word artists and lovers of poetry in and around Pretoria, and continues to grow under the new management of Puno Selesho and Adelle Nqeto.
The evening begins with an open-mic round, allowing members of the audience brave enough to face the crowd the opportunity to perform their poetry. Whether the performers are nervously reciting their work for the first time, practising their skills as they grow, or testing out a risky piece to see if it works, an atmosphere of encouragement permeates the night as the audience listens intently and snaps forgotten words back into memory. Once the crowd is buzzing from the pre-drinks poetry of the open-mic round, it’s time to turn up at the main event – the party of poetry that is The League. Before the evening begins, 10 poets sign up on the small chalkboard outside the restaurant entrance to compete. Each Session has a unique theme, and performers are challenged to write or adapt their poetry according to the theme provided. The best performer on the night, according to the panel of judges, wins a cash prize of R500 (plus whatever charitable donation the crowd is willing to make before the winner is announced, which means the basic prize money is often doubled!) Performers gather points for competing each month, and at the end of the Spoken Sessions season the one with the most points in The League wins an all-expenses-paid trip to the Grahamstown Arts Festival.
But Sessions is more than a competition – it is a community; a platform for political and social expression; a hub of inspiration; a forum for discourse. Performers poke fun at the peculiarities of humanity, bring the audience to tears with the heartache of inhumanity, and inspire mute mouths to speak out. It is an event that should not be missed. You can find out when the next Session is by following Spoken Session on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Spoken-Sessions-1439827639606220/?fref=ts)